Another September is here, and as we say goodbye to the Summer, we once again say hello to the agonizing upgrade decisions following Apple’s annual iPhone event. Let’s break down which iPhone 11 might be best for you, and whether or not it’s actually time for an upgrade.
Aside from some hands-on time with the new iPhone 11, 11 Pro, and 11 Pro Max after Apple’s event earlier this week, we haven’t yet had an opportunity to test drive any of the new hardware. We’ll be sharing more in-depth analysis of the new iPhones in the coming weeks, but for now, we’ve got enough information to make some well-educated decisions ahead of Friday, September 13, when Apple officially begins iPhone 11 pre-orders starting at 8:01 a.m. ET, or 5:01 a.m. PT.
For Most People…
Buy the 128GB iPhone 11 in black on Verizon.
Why iPhone 11?
Last September we recommended the mid-range iPhone XS for those looking to upgrade right away. But this year we’re instead giving the nod to the entry-level iPhone 11. Starting at $699 it’s $300 cheaper than the iPhone 11 Pro, and $50 cheaper than the $750 entry-level iPhone XR when it was introduced last September. The iPhone XR ended up being Apple’s best selling iPhone in 2018, and out-shipped every other smartphone in the first half of this year, despite lacking the innovative double camera setup of the iPhone XS and XS Max.
The iPhone 11 might not have the triple-camera setup that the 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max do, but its double camera setup will be more than adequate for even shutterbugs. All of the advanced features of Apple’s Portrait mode are included, as well as the front-facing 12-megapixel camera with slow-motion “slofie” capabilities. The iPhone 11 also runs the same A13 Bionic processor as the 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max, and Apple promises an extra hour of battery life over the iPhone XR.
You’ll lose bragging rights given the iPhone 11 still uses an LCD with lower resolution than the 11 Pro’s OLED screen. And overall, the 11 is slightly larger and heavier than the next step up, but you can use the money you save to buy an Apple Watch Series 3 and still have $100 leftover.
If you do anything more than make calls on your iPhone, 64GB is simply not enough storage. Games on the iTunes App Store now regularly weigh in at a few gigs in size, photos snapped with a 12MP camera quickly add up, and now that you can make slow-motion “slofie” videos using the iPhone 11's front camera, you’re going to find 64GB of storage disappearing faster than ever.
The storage capacity decisions were a little easier with the iPhone XS last year as Apple had eliminated the 128GB option, offering 256GB of storage for just $100 more than the 64GB base model. But with the iPhone 11 your options are limited to 128GB for an extra $50, or 256GB for an extra $150. Given the increased cost of storage, we recommend the 128GB upgrade and then relying on cloud-based services to offload and backup photos and videos as often as possible to ensure you don’t max out your device. But if running out of storage is just too stressful a thought to manage, the 256GB option should keep you safe for another year.
Every carrier will offer subsidies and deals if you buy your new iPhone 11 through them, but year after year Verizon is ranked the best. It’s the country’s largest carrier with the most expansive network of towers that continues to grow, and it offers the best 4G and 4G LTE coverage. Verizon currently offers unlimited data plans starting at $70 a month, not including taxes and all those fun hidden fees. The carriers play fast and loose with the term “unlimited” these days, and Verizon will throttle your download speeds if you use more than 26GB of wireless data in a month’s time. If you don’t need unlimited data, you can save a few bucks and opt for Verizon’s 4GB plan that includes unlimited texting and talking for $50 a month.
...But maybe try the 256GB iPhone 11 Pro in space gray if photography is your thing?
They say the best camera is the one you have with you, and if one upgrade stands out among the updates Apple made to the iPhone 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max, it’s the shooting capabilities of the device you already carry around all day long. The addition of a third camera on the back might seem excessive, but it allows the iPhone 11 Pro to finally both zoom in and out on a scene without resorting to digital trickery which never yields optimal results. That’s a feature that’s typically been the domain of dedicated shooters, but on the iPhone 11, it manages to justify the device’s “Pro” moniker.
The iPhone has also become a legitimate replacement for bulky video cameras with 4K and slo-mo capabilities. With the 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max’s triple-camera setup, videographers can now capture three different takes of a scene at varying zoom levels—all at the same time. The iPhone 11 Pro is $300 more than the iPhone 11, and upgrading the 64GB base model to 256GB of storage, which is all but essential for extensive photography use, adds another $150 on top of that. But for $1149 you also get Apple’s best and brightest HDR OLED display which is ideal for doing photo edits right on the device, an upgrade to a stainless steel housing instead of aluminum, and four extra hours of battery life compared to the iPhone XS. The improvements made to the iPhone 11 line’s 4G LTE performance will also be appreciated once you start trying to back up photos to the cloud.
There are exceptions…
Everyone uses their phones differently and has unique needs for the device they carry around and use all day long.
Why iPhone 11 Pro Max?
It’s all about that bigger 6.5-inch OLED screen. It offers more resolution than the other two iPhone 11 models making it the ideal viewfinder for photographers, videographers, and editors. Bigger isn’t always better, but at 6.2-inches tall the iPhone 11 Pro Max has the same guts as the iPhone 11 line, leaving some extra room for a bigger battery inside. Apple claims it will run five hours longer than last year’s iPhone XS Max, which should go a long way to helping your charging anxieties.
Why iPhone XR?
The iPhone XR was Apple’s best selling phone in 2018 and even outsold all of the competition through the first half of 2019. It’s still an excellent phone with FaceID security, a beautiful edge-to-edge screen with the Home button removed, some Portrait Mode capabilities thanks to a clever use of AI to add photographic effects like background blur to your shots, and, most importantly, a price drop to just $599 for the 64GB base model ($100 cheaper than the iPhone 11) or $649 for the 128GB upgrade.
Why iPhone 8?
Released alongside the original iPhone X, the iPhone 8 is a few years old now, but Apple is still keeping it around. At $499 for the 128GB model, or $599 for the larger 128GB iPhone 8 Plus, it’s still an excellent smartphone and offers one feature that none of Apple’s higher-end models do: a physical home button with Touch ID fingerprint security for those still not sure about Face ID. It’s also the perfect choice if you’ve got parents who’ve been using iPhones for years and you don’t want to have to teach them how to memorize all of the new gestures needed to navigate the iPhone X and above. When their iPhone SE or iPhone 6 finally dies, the iPhone 8 is a solid upgrade path.
Why the Apple Upgrade Plan?
Apple’s first priority isn’t making smartphones: It’s making money. The company does everything it can to convince users that once September rolls around, they need to upgrade their current phone to the latest reveal. The Apple Upgrade Plan makes that a little easier by allowing iPhone users to pay off their new device through 24 smaller, interest-free monthly payments, with the added bonus of AppleCare+ included—something the carriers don’t include with their installment plans. The 128GB iPhone 11 we recommend costs $37.41 a month with the Apple Upgrade Plan. You’ll save a few bucks by opting for the Verizon Device Payment Plan instead, but that $31.20 a month doesn’t include AppleCare+.
If you’re an early adopter who upgrades year after year, the Apple Upgrade Plan offers convenience too. After ordering your new device online, you can pick it up at an Apple Store while dropping off your current iPhone, or have it delivered which requires you to mail your current iPhone back to Apple. But if the newest iPhones don’t interest you, you can hold onto your device and complete all the monthly payments, at which point it’s yours.
The iPhone is a complex, pricy gadget that’s also very easy to drop—repeatedly. AppleCare+ is a must-have upgrade, and there’s a good chance it will end up paying for itself if you’re the clumsy type. AppleCare+ for the iPhone 11 costs $149, and with it, a screen replacement will cost you just $29. Without AppleCare+ repairing a cracked screen runs $199, so you’ll actually be paying $21 more for the fix. There’s always the chance you’ll never break your iPhone, but AppleCare+ actually offers cheaper repairs for two instances of accidental damage, so it’s definitely worth the gamble.
If you’re looking to save a few bucks over Verizon, or simply have a beef with the carrier (admit it, we’ve all got that one carrier we’ll never join again) T-Mobile’s Essentials plan offers unlimited talk, texting, and smartphone data for $60 a month, plus applicable taxes and fees. T-Mobile is a little more generous with their monthly mobile data allocations, giving users full speed access to its network until they use over 50GB of data before throttling limitations kick in, and you’ll save $10 a month over Verizon in the process. T-Mobile’s network is smaller than Verizon’s however, so this might be an option only for those who live in larger metropolitan areas to ensure adequate coverage and performance.
Did Apple’s latest reveals leave you wanting more? Does the iPhone feel like it’s no longer the innovation leader? Here are some excellent alternatives if you’re thinking of jumping ship and switching platforms.
Just don’t upgrade
How long has it been since your last iPhone upgrade? Do you really find yourself frustrated with your current iPhone’s capabilities? The past few iPhone upgrades haven’t exactly been giant leaps, and the performance improvements made to the latest and greatest iPhones aren’t really obvious unless you’re playing graphically intense games. Do your friends care if the photo you just shared to Instagram was taken with a 10-megapixel or 12-megapixel camera? Do you ever actually use the iPhone X’s Portrait Mode features? You just spent an entire summer with your current iPhone, capturing memorable moments, sharing them with friends, and staying connected to each other. Unless your iPhone is physically broken, it’s going to keep on working just fine, and your friends will still keep in touch if you’re using last year’s model.
If you still need that annual ego boost, just remind your early-adopting friends that making iPhones and even recycling iPhones takes quite a toll on the environment and the Earth’s natural resources, despite Apple’s claims to the contrary. By skipping the iPhone 11 lineup, you’re doing your part to battle climate change.